This article is based on the AskReddit question “Reddit, what made you realize you were poor growing up?”
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
1. Kindness of a basketball coach
When I was a junior in high school, I got some crappy $30 basketball shoes because I didn’t want to spend much of my hard-earned money on them. Football season was just ending and I hadn’t had a lot of time to work in the fall, so I was kind of short. My parents didn’t have money to help us out with extras like basketball shoes.
We were in a tournament in Kansas and as I was getting ready to shoot a free throw, one of my opponents said, “Nice shoes,” and laughed at me. Another said, “How you like being trailer trash?”
The ref heard them and told them he never wanted to hear anything like that ever again. The truth was that we did live in a trailer–the third one out of four that I would live in during my childhood.
One of my teammates must have told the coach because after that game, he let me wear his shoes during games the rest of the year. I still love that man.
2. Not enough food
10 years old. Told my mom I was hungry before going to bed. She said that she was too. That’s when I realized she never even ate dinner. There just wasn’t enough food.
3. Much respect to these parents
My parents are incredible, let’s start there. Grew up in South Africa and we went from middle-class family to poor without either myself or my sister noticing for a long time. The realization came one day when we had one of our favorite treats for the week, spaghetti bolognese. Thing is, the meat sauce was no longer meat sauce, it was lentils cooked and smashed to resemble ground beef in the sauce. Turns out that as things got harder and harder, this weekly treat got ground beef gradually substituted with lentils until lentils were the only thing my parents were able to afford. That is when I realized we were on hard times. I didn’t say anything, but got a job as a golf caddy at 14, helped where I could, but full credit to my parents who still tried to give us something they knew we loved. Couple years of this and my parents made it through what I am sure was very hard for them. I respect both of them for trying to keep their pain and stress away from us kids, and still serve us spaghetti bolognese (lentilnese).
4. Feed them first
Looking forward to the free school lunch, because that was the only thing I’d get to eat that day. I felt like crap though, mom wouldn’t eat so I could and dad gave up his lunch because he felt bad eating when mom and I were hungry.
5. Its the thought that counts
On Christmas when I was 6 my dad took me to a family Christmas breakfast with our extended family and they had a big tree with a pile of presents under it and everyone had multiple presents. My parents only got me and my siblings 1 or 2 but my cousins all had multiple presents from their parents and the rest of the family. Seeing their presents made me realize we were poor but it also made me realize that I had a terrible extended family. My one present from my parents had more sentiment than the board games I got from those guys every year. Also I just remembered my dad always got his brother and sisters t-shirts from his work and everyone thought he was getting them for free so they were mad about it but the price was actually taken out of his paycheck. The shirts were $15 each and he has 1 brother and 8 sisters.
6. Best parents
I realized later that when my parents took me to McDonald’s and just watched me eat, it wasn’t because they weren’t hungry. It’s because they could only afford one meal.
7. Give more than you receive
When my new clothes were my dad’s old clothes that had been cut to fit me for my birthday. I was so happy to have clothes like my dad’s, they even had the same cement stains on them! My mom was nearly in tears and I thought it was because she was so happy that I was happy. It turned out she was ashamed that they couldn’t afford new clothes at the rate I was growing. I was fortunate because I never knew about poverty due to the love that our family had.
Now 20+ years later, I’m supporting my mother and father, the fridge is always full and there will never be a moment when they go hungry, I give them both enough money to enjoy life and this year, I’m planning on surprising my mom and dad with a trip to Paris, France. If being poor did anything for me, it taught me to not be selfish and give more than I receive. For Christmas and my birthday, all I want are socks.
8. Frozen orange juice
My mother would buy frozen orange juice concentrate and use twice as much water to make it last longer. I never knew orange juice could taste good until my late teens.
9. All for a good cause
My parents split up when I was young. My dad had money and my mom didn’t. She got a lot of help from food pantries, neighbors, friends. My brother, sister and I would steal money out of my dads wallet and put it in my moms purse so she could afford to buy groceries. I didn’t think much of it at the time but damn, we were pretty awesome kids!
10. Children deserve happiness
I didn’t realize until I was older. In between my mom divorcing my dad, and her marrying my stepdad, she was a single mom (of 3) working three jobs. We lived in a little 2 bedroom rental house, all three of us in one bedroom, and my mom in the other. All of our furniture was second hand and donated. She never let us go without and always had food on the table. But christmas gifts and birthday gifts were bought at dollar stores and the like. I remember my 7th birthday I got what I thought was a brand new bike. Turns out, someone on our street actually was tossing their bike, so my mom picked it up and completely fixed it up. New paint, those little clackers on the spokes, streamers on the handles, a cute little basket on the front, and shiny bell. As my sisters and I grew older, we realized how hard our mom really worked to give us a life we deserved.
11. Awesome teacher is awesome!
My grade 8 science teacher suggested I go to an engineering science summer camp. It cost about $250. Turns out my parents couldn’t afford it. When I told my teacher, she arranged for the school board to pay for me to go.
I go to the university that hosts the summer camp now.
12. The responsible one
When I was 15, I went straight to work and most of my paycheck went to the family. No questions, just work. My folks did treat me a lot more like an adult than they did my sister. I got to sleep in on the rare weekends I didnt work, my dad would talk to me about sports like I was an equal, mom would trust me with doing things a child wouldnt be trusted to do, like taking care of my siblings when my parents were at work (which was often). My day was non-stop from 4:30 am to around 9:30 pm.
By the time my brother and sister were old enough to work, I was out of the house and my parents were doing well enough not to need them to work.
I never realized how important that was to my folks until my brothers graduation from college where he was to give a speech as president of the SGA and named me as his biggest influence because I worked and took care of the kids when my parents were away, making sure they had someone there for them and my mom just grabbed my knee and just started bawling.
13. Panic mode on
When I was in middle school and a kid made fun of me and my sister because we got free lunches at school. Not even reduced cost lunches, but free. A reduced cost lunch cost $0.48.
Also one time I had a panic attack because I got fruit punch on a textbook and knew it would hit my mom hard to pay the $60 to replace it. My mom had to come pick me up from school because I was freaking out so much. Later my math teacher told my mom they were getting new books for the next year and not to worry about it.
14. How parents make sacrifices for their children
My parents were great. We wanted for nothing (within reason) but there were a few things I remember. For example, Dad insisted on always buying sneakers too big so we’d “grow into them” but not buy a half size or by a size up. We’re talking 1.5-2 full sizes to big because shoes were bought at the beginning for the school year and that was it till next year. Probably the biggest one had to do with me being the oldest of the 4 kids. Every Christmas I can remember being pulled aside and told “money’s kind of tight bud, we got the other kids stuff that LOOKS big but it’s really not much. Birthdays were similar, a new T-shirt. Usually one I had seen in a clearance bin. Looking back I know my dad missed meals. I also know that he worked his butt off 12+ hours a day and picked up side work on a lot of weekends. All so I could play football or get those too big sneakers once a year. All while I was generally ungrateful. I have good parents.
15. Same look, different years
My mom saved my older sisters’ things for me as hand me downs… they were 10 and 12 years older. Although I was born in 1990, my parents struggle to tell my oldest sister and I apart in pictures because we are both wearing the same get up from 1980. It wasn’t all bad though… I was lucky and got to inherit some cool stuff like Rainbow Brite, Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake toys and VHS tapes for example.
16. No cable and surprise outings
There were a lot of signs. I used to see my mom sit at the table with a bunch of bills and look stressed out. I asked her if we were poor once, and she looked like she was going to cry. Making our halloween costumes with things at home, and never winning the contest at school because of it. Once, my mom told me that we weren’t welcome back at one of my friend’s houses because we didnt have as much money as them. I never had cable, so at school I didn’t know what other kids were talking about when they got started on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel. I didn’t have a stretch armstrong or like any of the toys other kids had.
My dad was abusive though, so a lot of our money went towards surprise outings where me, my mom, and my brother would stay in hotels, go to fast food places, or stay with friends/family on very short notice in order to get out of the house.
17. Accepting the reality of things
I don’t remember realizing that we were poor. I just remember being poor.
Never asked for anything I knew we couldn’t afford (excepting a pony I knew I couldn’t have because I was a seven year old girl with the horse bug). Tried hard not to complain too much about wearing my older brother’s hand-me-downs. Rejoiced when we had fresh fruit in the house.
There was never a moment of clarity for me. It was just the way it was.
18. Learning about life the hard way
I realized when I was in my twenties that fresh fruit and vegetables are 100x better than canned versions. All we could afford when I was a kid were the canned versions.
One of the most hurtful things about growing up poor was that I painstakingly saved every bit of birthday and Christmas money for college. When I got older, I realized that my parents had spent all of that money for their divorce, without my knowledge or consent.
When you are poor, people around you are more likely to screw you over in a million tiny ways, because they too are poor and have needs. It doesn’t matter if you are a kid or not.
19. Improvising when needed
When I lived with my mom, we lived in a cheap motel with no fridge so she’d put the milk in the snow outside. Splitting a small milkshake from McDonalds between 6 kids, that was fun. Riding in a little Uhaul during a cross country move- we couldn’t afford to take the car too so I sat on the floorboards under the dash.
20. Paying back for their hard work
We weren’t super poor but there was a lot that I realize now that my parents did when I was little to keep us lower middle class. I remember we had a gorgeous grand piano, and one day it was just gone. My mom said that we had to sell it. My dad used to own a print shop, and while I didn’t know it at the time, he had to file for bankruptcy. Later at another shop he worked at, he would work days on end and wouldn’t be home, so I slept in bed next to my mom.
We didn’t have cable for about 5 years, and I don’t really remember going to movies or buying new ones. I think I had the same clothes for years too since I didn’t grow, and buying new ones was too much.
The biggest thing though was listening to them talk when they thought I couldn’t hear, and eventually I just stopped asking for things, and refusing offers to get me something if I couldn’t pay them back with my own money, I just felt so guilty. It’s a habit that’s unfortunately carried over to this day.
21. Appreciate the small things in life
I thought eating rice and beans or Top Ramen for all three meals was normal until I was about 7 or 8. You’d be surprised how nourishing just plain white rice and black beans can be, and how inexpensive they are. But my mom tells me that as a baby we were so poor that she would cry because I was crying due to hunger. My brother and sister would eat very little and give me, the baby, whatever they could and my parents wouldn’t eat often.
I’m not rich today or even well off/debt free, but I get to ask my girlfriend every day “Hey what would you like to eat today?” and we can cook it, no questions asked. We are both very much into fitness, her lifting and me running, and she is teaching me her healthy meal prepping ways which saves a lot of money and is much healthier than eating out regularly. We have enough to indulge a little like tonight. She just ate some ice cream and laughed, saying “My belly is full,” and I thought to myself, “That’s a good feeling to have. We’re lucky.”
Life is good.
22. Getting through difficult days
Growing up, divorced parents, mom working full time, raising 3 kids and a mortgage. My mom made sure to never let us know how poor we really were. Growing up my brothers and I never knew. We talk about it to this day on how amazing my mom is.
She was the one who went without. My grandma was always babysitting us (which now I look back on because of how lucky we were to spend so much time with her).
We had “camp outs” in the backyard watching stars, satellites, etc. For fun we would drive to my mom’s work (worked for the airlines) and just watch airplanes take off and land. We would go to the drive in movies and some of us would hide in the car so we weren’t charged. We would go to my aunts house for the pool and a free dinner (they would always treat).
During high school my brothers and I moved with our dad. He was on disability. After high school, I was the only one with a job, and then our fridge went out. Since I was the only one with a job I had to buy a new one.
I had to take money out of my college savings for my dad to pay taxes on the house.
23. The unconditional love of parents
My parents worked really hard to be able to afford a good future for my sister and I. They tried their very best to not show us how poor we were but sometimes we just knew…
My friends used to talk about having their own rooms, I shared a room with 3 adults. I didn’t have any private space. Kids my age also went to McDonalds quite often but we really couldn’t afford it, so my parents would use the excuse that it really wasn’t healthy for us and that we had homemade meals (we had pasta and meat sauce every single day) that were better. I also used to wear clothes that were donated to us… Lime green pants, hot red shirts, nothing kid like… I’d be made fun of. My dad used to tell me he just loved those colors on me… but it didn’t cut it. I knew that we were just poor. We also never had books to read, never invited anyone ever, never ate at restaurants, and never went shopping. It all sounds so materialistic but come to think about it, the first person who read to me wasn’t my parents, it was a teacher, because my parents didn’t even speak the language books were written in.
On top of that, kids at my school were filthy rich, so they could afford going on all those $$$ trips and I had to lie and say that I couldn’t go because I was sick, or had somewhere else to go to… The worst parts were coming back from summer break, all the rich kids had been to those amazing countries and done those amazing things… I had gone to help my parents with some work to see if they could be less tired at the end of the day.
Anyway, I’m in my late 20’s now and I got educated, own a house, my kids each have their bedrooms and we travel as a family. I can afford clothes and healthy meals… and we sometimes even go to McDonalds. My parents are alive to see all this, and I can see it in their tired eyes that it just made it all be worth it.
24. When rough times affect kids upbringing
I was a tax preparer for a while. Dad gave me his stuff to do. He also handed me a stack from his file of all his old returns. In 1998 my parents made $8000 for the year. Two adults, and a 14 and 16 year old.
No assistance because Dad wouldn’t hear of it. Mom babysat a little which wasn’t reported but it wasn’t a lot.
It blows my mind that they managed to do this for years.
We knew we didn’t have much money. Clothes were from goodwill or friends. Our car got rear ended and was effectively totaled. They used the money to repair the frame and buy a can of Bondo to patch it. They had bills to catch up on. They used the rest of the money from the insurance for bills.
I had just never seen their income on paper in numbers I understood.
Dad owned his own business. When tax time came, since he wasn’t taxed on his income throughout the year, he would owe about 3 grand.
Mom recently apologized when I mentioned I felt she had some bias in raising me and my brother. I said she was harder on me than him and put out examples. She said she was sorry and that their financial situation must have played a bigger part in her stress level and parenting skills than she realized.
I told her not to worry.
Breaks my heart.